One of the most effective ways to return a short serve is to push it back short and low, making it hard for the server to attack. This is very common at the higher levels, but even at lower levels there are players who do this. How can a server overcome this? Here are six ways.
- Serve long. This makes the serve easier to attack (mostly by looping), but not all players can attack deeps serves effectively, especially if the long serves are mixed in occasionally. Just the threat of a long serve keeps the receiver from stepping in too soon against short serves, which makes their short receive more erratic.
- Aggressive half-long serves. A half-long serve is a serve that, given the chance, the second bounce would bounce near the end of the table. This is the deepest serve you can do and still keep it short. This makes it very difficult for the receiver to loop, and as difficult as possible to push short. This is the most common serve at the higher levels. Ideally, serve it aggressively, so it comes at the receiver somewhat fast and low, yet still bounces twice.
- Backspin/No-Spin. A short, low backspin serve is difficult to attack but is the easiest serve to push short. But if you mix in no-spin serves, the receiver will often misread it and push the serve back high. The key to a no-spin serve is to serve just like a backspin, but instead of grazing the ball near the racket tip, contact it near the handle, where the racket is moving slowly. Even if you graze it there, it'll have little spin, but it'll look like regular backspin. This is often the most common serving tactic at the higher levels.
- Short Side-Top. With practice, you can learn to serve short sidespin/topspin serves that land short (usually half-long). But because it goes short, many receivers will read them as backspin and try to push them, and so they pop up. Even if they read the serve and chop down to keep it from popping up, the ball will usually come out deep.
- Make them Receive Forehand. Many players have far more touch with their backhand push than their forehand push. So try serving short to the forehand. If they reach over and push with their backhand, try serving from the middle or forehand side of the table, so you have an angle into their short forehand. If they still reach over and receive backhand, develop a deep serve to the backhand that you can do with the same motion, so the receiver has to watch for that, forcing them to receive forehand against short serves to the forehand.
- Develop a Really Good Flip. If the receiver is going to push your serves back short, then learn to reach in and attack it! Punish them if the short push goes the least bit high - and many do - and use quickness and placement when attacking the others.